Archive for July, 2012

Delayed Reaction: Tape Delays, Social Media Create Challenges for Olympic Followers

Every four years the Olympic games capture the attention of sports fans, both casual and hardcore, across the globe. The excitement of seeing big name athletes such as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Usain Bolt, Hope Solo and LeBron James compete for gold is must-see television.

No need for the update, Bob, we already saw the results on Twitter yesterday.

Since 1988, NBC has been the exclusive TV home of the summer Olympic games, and in 2002 became the home for the winter games as well. With its headquarters in New York and its audience predominantly American, NBC has strived to broadcast the games so that major events are seen in U.S. primetime slots. But with a five-hour time difference between London and the Eastern Time Zone, NBC is forced to resort to a dreaded television phrase: tape delay.

Tape delays are nothing new, but they certainly aren’t popular. People have an insatiable need to hear the latest news as it happens, not wait five hours to hear about it. So when NBC resorted to tape delay in order to put events in primetime slots, the reaction was understandably negative. NBC used tape delay for the 2008 summer games in Beijing, but the advent of social media has created a host of issues in 2012.

Take for example the highly anticipated 400-meter freestyle relay race in men’s swimming. In 2008, the U.S. edged France by .08 in the race, coming from behind and winning by literally the margin of a fingertip to claim the gold. Both the U.S. and France squads were in this summer’s 400-meter relay, and the rematch figured to be close once again. Due to tape delay, the race was not shown on NBC until the evening, even though the race was completed hours earlier. With real-time updates from journalists on site, followers on Twitter and other social media platforms learned the French turned the tables on the U.S., coming from behind to win gold by .45. That took all the drama out of seeing the event that evening on television.

Updates on social media have put Olympic followers in uncharted territory: To follow or not to follow? Many Twitter users have unfollowed users who have updated from the games so as to keep the results a surprise when they see them at night. One Twitter user even had his account suspended when he went too far in criticizing NBC for using tape delay. The best outcome of the tape delay so far has been the parody account @NBCDelayed, which has over 20,000 followers since launching in the past three days as it gives mock updates that happened previously (Bush beats Gore in 2000 Election, U.S. wins “Miracle on Ice”).

Despite the issues, NBC seems to be doing fine. The opening weekend drew the biggest TV ratings in Olympic history. Though it may be frustrating for athletes and hardcore fans, the fact remains that tape delay helps draw bigger ratings, and that in turn helps the games generate more interest and more money. It’s an unfortunate tradeoff, but a necessary one for NBC.

This proves once again that the Olympics are not about sports or even politics, they are about money.

Photo (cc) by Doc Searls and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Social (Media) Butterflies: Fans Taking to Twitter to Lure Penn State Players

It’s open season in State College, Pa. In the fallout from the NCAA’s staggering penalties against Penn State, a new wave of recruiting is occurring in college football as 96 players hit the open market.

When NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the sanctions against Penn State, he also announced that current Nittany Lion players were allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year like most transfers. Considering the school is now banished from postseason play for four years and the talent level is expected to drop off dramatically, it stands to reason many players would seek greener pastures.

On Wednesday, roughly 25 Penn State players showed their commitment to the school they originally signed with and staged an impromptu announcement, declaring they would not transfer.

The players staying have already been praised for their loyalty to the school, and you can bet Penn State will use these players as marketing as it attempts to clean its image.

For other players considering leaving, the scene in State College resembles wild predators stalking their prey. It was reported that coaches from other schools, most notably Illinois, traveled to Penn State to meet with players and try to lure them away. On one instance, the Illinois coaches ran into Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien on campus.

By far the biggest name on the recruiting trail is running back Silas Redd. Last season the sophomore led the Nittany Lions with 1,241 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and helped drive the offensive attack. Early reports indicated Redd was considering USC as a potential transfer destination.

And that’s when things got ugly. Like most college students, Redd has a Twitter (MomentOfSilas25) that he uses frequently. Awful Announcing did a fantastic job in detailing the Twitter recruitment of Redd.

As you might expect, there were plenty of Penn State fans and alumni pleading him to stay. But there were also quite a few Nittany Lion  fans who didn’t take kindly to the USC rumors, using choice words and labeling him a #sellout.

And then there were the other schools. USC, Tennessee, Oregon, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, LSU, Florida State, Purdue, Louisville, Georgia and Temple were all mentioned by people who tweeted at Redd.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. College football has been known for its shoddy recruiting practices that turn teenage kids into heroes and villains at the same time. But in the wake of all that has happened at Penn State, one would hope people could keep things in perspective and let the players make their own decisions.

Guilty By Association: Penn State Non-Revenue Sports May Struggle Following NCAA’s Football Punishment

NCAA President Mark Emmert stepped to the podium Monday morning and delivered what many believe to be the strictest punishment in collegiate sports history.

As a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal cover-up and shocking details of the Freeh Report, the NCAA chose to hand out the following penalties against Penn State and its football program:

  • A $60 million sanction — equivalent to one year’s gross revenue of the football program — with funds going to support victims of child sexual abuse and programs intended to prevent such acts from occurring
  • A four-year ban on bowl games and postseason play
  • A reduction in football scholarships ranging from 25 to 15 for four years
  • The removal of all football wins (111) from 1998 to 2011
  • A five year probation period for the entire athletic department

Reaction to the punishment has been mixed. Some call the NCAA’s decision fair, while others find it over the top. What’s clear is that Penn State’s football team will be in rebuilding mode for quite some time.

And so too might the remainder of Penn State’s athletic programs. In 2011 Penn State’s football team made $53 million in profits, by far the biggest moneymaker program at the school. This money is spread around and used to help support non-revenue sports, such as fencing, gymnastics, and swimming & diving among others.

If Penn State football struggles as it is expected to, these sports may be in trouble financially. Though the program has weathered through unremarkable seasons before, it looks as though it will be entirely dependent on donations, especially without the aid of money sharing from the Big Ten or from bowl games. It is not a stretch to say other programs could be cut as an unintended result of the NCAA’s ruling.

The problems extend outside Penn State’s campus. Local businesses in State College, Pa. could suffer an estimated $50 million in losses per year. Much like the school itself, Central Pennsylvania has thrived off Nittany Lion football. That financial vehicle has suddenly been derailed.

Time will tell how long Penn State football suffers. It may be a shorter time before the remainder of Penn State’s teams learn their connected fate.

Player Control Foul: Eric Gordon Saga Demonstrates Athletes’ Desire for Control

Eric Gordon wants to play for the Phoenix Suns, and the Suns want Gordon to play for them. That’s why the Suns offered him $58 million over four years to make the Grand Canyon State his new home. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Wrong. The New Orleans Hornets, the team for which Gordon played for during the 2011-12 season, have the right to match the contract offer and keep the shooting guard in the Emerald City. Thus, the Hornets hold the cards in this scenario.

Gordon’s only hope is that New Orleans chooses not to match the contract offer from Phoenix and lets him leave. Gordon was not shy when asked about his feelings regarding leaving New Orleans for Phoenix:

Perhaps the best way to explain this is to try and put it into terms the average person can understand. Pretend you are a recent college graduate with an entry level job. You’ve been at your job for three years, and you find an opening for a new job with another company. They see your resume, think you would be a good fit, and offer you a position with an elevated salary. But rather than give your two weeks to your current boss, you find that your company has the right to match the salary and keep you for at least another year.

Huh?

Such is life in the modern sports world with the advent of restricted free agency. To summarize in short, restricted free agency (RFA) means a player who was drafted in the first round can accept an offer from another team after his fourth year in the league. But the team he was currently with has the opportunity to match the offer and keep him. This rule allows small market teams the opportunity to keep their star players before they can be bid for by bigger market clubs.

On the surface, this rule makes sense, but it definitely puts players in an unusual position. All Gordon wants is to play for the Suns, but the Hornets have the right to keep him. The only solution he saw fit was to publicly chastise New Orleans in the hopes it would scare them away. Call it sports’ version of mudslinging if you will.

Gordon’s words have resonated in the hoops world, but not in an endearing way. Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney penned a mock letter that Gordon sent to New Orleans that opens with three powerful words: I hate you. Hornets 247 blogger Joe Gerrity pointed out how foolish Gordon looks for calling out a team that wants to shell out $58 million for him, a season after Gordon only played nine games. Fans who shell out big money to go to games have right to question Gordon’s sense of what is right and wrong.

From Gordon’s perspective, there is some reason to his argument. He wants to choose where he can play and the team he wants to play for also wants him. And though he will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) next summer — meaning he will be able to sign wherever he wants without another team matching the offer — there is some risk in that scenario. What if Gordon gets injured again and can only play a limited number of games, like he did in 2011-12? Teams are unlikely to give big contracts to a player coming off back-to-back injury seasons, so there is risk in playing even one more year before hitting UFA status. And though Gordon is likely to make a lot of money even if he were to get hurt again, fans have to remember that athletes have a limited number of years to hone their craft before they are finished. If they’re lucky, players make it to about age 40 before their bodies betray them and they have to retire. That’s not the case if you’re an accountant or consultant.

CBS Sports writer Matt Moore perhaps summed up Gordon’s situation best by pointing out that these are the rules Gordon chose to play by. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expired after the 2010-11 season, which is what prompted the league’s lockout last winter while a new CBA was agreed to. The NBA Players Association negotiated with the league’s owners, and topics such as restricted free agency were undoubtedly part of the conversation. In the end, the CBA was ratified by the players, and the Gordon has to abide by the rules he agreed to.

Just because Gordon has rules in place for him doesn’t mean he has to stay quiet about them. But anytime someone complains about a $58 million contract being disrespectful, it’s not good for anyone.